If you already have a weather radio and a Wireless Alert Emergency Alert (WEA) enabled mobile phone then congratulations! You will be warned of an approaching tornado or other severe weather even if it happens in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping. You probably know that these are just as important to your safety as smoke detectors.
If you are unsure about how important these two systems of emergency notification may be to protecting the safety of you and your loved ones, here is some information about their capabilities.
National Weather Radio
NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office. NWR broadcasts official Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Working with the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Alert System , NWR is an “All Hazards” radio network, making it your single source for comprehensive weather and emergency information. In conjunction with Federal, State, and Local Emergency Managers and other public officials, NWR also broadcasts warning and post-event information for all types of hazards – including natural (such as earthquakes or avalanches), environmental (such as chemical releases or oil spills), and public safety (such as AMBER alerts or 911 Telephone outages).
Known as the “Voice of NOAA’s National Weather Service,” NWR is provided as a public service by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), part of the Department of Commerce. NWR includes 1025 transmitters, covering all 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Territories. NWR requires a special radio receiver or scanner capable of picking up the signal. Broadcasts are found in the VHF public service band at these seven frequencies (MHz):
What Type of Radio Do I Need?
Look for the Public Alert symbol when choosing an All Hazards Weather Radio
Depending on the information you want to access, and how and where you plan to access the broadcasts, you have many options. There are standalone Weather Radio receivers as well as multi-band/function receivers with the weather band included. If you want to be alerted to Warnings and Watches day or night, a standalone receiver might work best for you. If you just want to be able to tune to in the weather broadcast and do not care about receiving alerts, a general multi-band/function receiver might be better.
Standalone Receivers: Standalone receivers might also come with AM/FM bands, but their primary use will be to receive Weather Radio broadcasts. You can choose between handheld and desktop models, depending on whether you plan to take your radio with you when you go out. There are many choices from a number of manufacturers with prices ranging from around $20 to over $100, depending on the number of features included.
Multi-Band/Function Receivers: These receivers bundle a number of features. Weather Radio is just one of many frequency bands included. You can find the Weather Radio band included in:
- AM/FM radios
- Shortwave receivers
- CB radios
- VHF Marine radios
- GMRS/FRS 2-way radios
- Car radios
- TV/Radio combinations*
See the Resources section of this article for information on some available options.
Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME)
Specific Area Messaging or SAME is the protocol used to encode NWR systems so that your radio will only alert you of weather and other emergencies for the counties or areas programmed. SAME is also used in the Emergency Alert System. When an NWS office broadcasts a warning, watch or non-weather emergency, it also broadcasts a digital SAME code. This SAME code contains the type of message, counties affected, and message expiration time. NWR radios without the SAME capability alert for emergencies anywhere within the coverage area of the NWR transmitter, typically for several counties, even though the emergency could be well away from the listener.
Mobile Weather Warnings
Imagine this: You’re driving down the highway, humming along to your favorite tunes, when the cell phone stowed in your bag suddenly makes a strange noise. To investigate, you take the next exit and safely pull over to check the screen. Good thing you did: Your phone just alerted you to a tornado a few miles away in the same county you’re driving through.
Sound plausible? It is. This year, America’s wireless industry is rolling out a new nationwide text emergency alert system, called Wireless Emergency Alerts, which will warn you when weather threatens.
The text alert service is free and automatic – there’s no need to sign up or download an app. As long as your cell phone is WEA-capable, you’ll get wireless alerts for the most dangerous types of weather from NOAA’s National Weather Service no matter where you are, just as soon as the new service is available in your area.
NOAA’s NWS will broadcast warnings for weather emergencies that are most dangerous to life and property: tornadoes, flash floods, hurricanes, extreme wind, blizzards and ice storms, tsunamis, and dust storms. (Severe thunderstorm warnings will not be part of the initial rollout of broadcast messages because they are so frequent; however, these will continue to be broadcast by NOAA Weather Radio, media outlets and Internet-based services.)
How weather text alerts work
If you are at home or traveling with your cell phone through an area where a weather warning has been issued, your phone will pick up alerts broadcast by nearby cell towers. Those towers will broadcast the message much like an AM/FM radio station, and cell phones within range will immediately pick up the signal — provided they are WEA-capable. When your phone receives a message, it will alert you with a unique ring tone and vibration.
The message will look like a text, but it’s not a traditional text message most people are used to. This text message will automatically pop up on your cell phone’s screen; you won’t have to open it up to read it.
And there’s more good news: Regardless of where you are, this service will send alerts appropriate to your real-time geographic location. For example, if a person with a WEA-capable phone from New Jersey happens to be in Southern California during and after an earthquake, she will receive an “Imminent Threat Alert” on her device.
Q: What should I do when I receive a message?
It depends. In most cases, these 90-character messages are a “heads up” to prompt you to seek further information about the threat. In the case of an extreme and imminent danger – such as a large tornado in the area – the message will advise you to seek shelter immediately.
Q: Who is behind the text alert system?
The new weather messages are part of the broader Wireless Emergency Alerts initiative – a partnership among the wireless industry, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. NOAA’s National Weather Service is one of many agencies authorized to send emergency alerts to cell phones through this new system.
These alerts will improve the way the government communicates to the public about hazards that pose a significant threat to life and property, and help people plan for and stay safe when they are at risk for dangerous situations — even in their own homes. You might also receive messages regarding Amber alerts, local hazards (e.g., chemical spills), and even national emergencies.
The ‘fine print’
The Wireless Emergency Alert system relies on “best-effort” networks, so delivery of alerts at a given place and time is not guaranteed. The new alert system is not a replacement for other alert systems, and you should not rely on it as a sole source of emergency information. A weather alert sent through WEA is intended to notify the public that a warning has been issued and that you should seek additional information. Remember: Not all phones are capable of receiving Wireless Emergency Alerts.
Cell service customers can opt out of weather alerts, but we strongly discourage you from doing so. These weather alerts are a vital public service that ultimately helps America become a more weather-ready nation. Armed with late-breaking weather warnings, people will have the timely information they need to make smart decisions about how to protect themselves, their families, their friends and neighbors, and their personal property.
If you are looking for a weather radio or are interested in a good weather app, Consumer Search provides a great guide for Best Weather Radios and Best Weather Alert Apps.
If you get a weather radio and need help setting it up, Contact Us and we’ll be happy to walk you through the set up.
Click on the image above for an informative brochure about NOAA National Weather Radio.